By Lindsay Calka
On August 12, the Washtenaw Area Apartment Association’s “Kickball Game and Picnic,” a networking event for landlords, had some unexpected attendees: tenants.
A broad coalition of tenants’ rights activists gathered in protest at Frisinger Park with the objective of showing tenant power. They demanded greater tenant protections and exhibited that they are willing to fight to ensure they would no longer fall victim to landlord abuses.
Although the CDC did reinstate the moratorium on evictions, the coalition believes evictions due to poverty should never happen. They believe evictions are landlord violence enacted through the police on the tenants.
Three hours before the scheduled kickball game was to begin, members of the Ann Arbor Tenants Union, University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization Housing Caucus, Washtenaw Camp Outreach, Wash-tenaw General Defense Committee and more gathered for a barbecue adjacent to the kickball field, occupying all the picnic tables. Upon arrival of the landlords, groups of individuals bearing signs and banners stood in the field and prevented the game from happening.
During the hour of the scheduled game, the protestors stood in a circle on the field and spoke out about “landlord horror stories” and rental struggles. Some speakers also shared examples of decommodified housing in Ann Arbor, like housing cooperatives.
These public demonstrations are only a small part of the work that a growing number of tenants, housing activists and houseless folks are engaging in to use their collective power. On July 20, renters in Ann Arbor won an amendment to the Early Leasing Ordinance (ELO). As it previously stood, this ordinance moved the timeline up for seeking housing and signing leases to October — almost a whole year before move-in. This ordinance, specifically affecting student renters, allowed for coercion by landlords into new leases and resulted in higher rents. The amendment prevents landlords from showing units until seven months into the lease.
Amir Fleischmann, member of the U-M Graduate Employees’ Organization and organizer for the ELO amendment, attended the many Ann Arbor City Council public hearings that discussed the ordinance change. He recounted, “We heard landlords seethe and fume over the prospect of giving tenants even this modest protection. We heard landlords threaten to sue the city over their right to exclude people from housing and lament the loss of their power to discriminate against prospective tenants with criminal records. The landlords are grossly out of touch with the reality of being a renter in Washtenaw County.”
To communicate these realities to the landlords themselves, the group marched from the field to a nearby area to which the Washtenaw Area Apartment Associations’ members had moved. The activists chanted loudly along to a drum to prevent the landlords from networking. The action ended with multiple speeches directed at the landlords, shaming them for prioritizing profit over the human right to housing.